Children's health status: examining the associations among income poverty, material hardship, and parental factors

PLoS One. 2007 Sep 26;2(9):e940. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0000940.


Background: We examined a model of multiple mediating pathways of income poverty, material hardship, parenting factors, and child health status to understand how material hardship and parental factors mediate the effects of poverty on child health. We hypothesized that: (a) poverty will be directly associated with material hardship, parental depression, and health status, and indirectly with parenting behaviors through its effects on parental depression and material hardship; (b) material hardship will be associated with parental depression, parenting behaviors, and health status; and (c) parental depression will be correlated with parenting behaviors, and that both parental depression and parenting behaviors will predict child health.

Methods and results: We used data from the 2002 National Survey of American Families for a sample of 9,645 6-to-11 year-olds to examine a 4-step structural equation model. The baseline model included covariates and income poverty. In the hardship model, food insufficiency and medical need were added to the baseline model. The parental model included parental depression and parenting behavior and baseline model. In the full model, all the constructs were included. First, income poverty had a direct effect on health status, and an indirect effect through its association with material hardship, parental depressive affect, and parenting behaviors. Medical need and food insufficiency had negative effects on child health, and indirect effects on health through their association with parental depression and parenting behaviors. Finally, parental depression and parenting behaviors were associated with child health, and part of the effect of parental depression on health was explained by its association with parenting behaviors.

Conclusions: Poverty has an independent effect on health, however, its effects are partially explained by material hardship, parental depression and parental behaviors. To improve children's health would require a multi-pronged approach involving income transfers, health insurance coverage, food and nutrition assistance, and parenting interventions.

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Family Health*
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Marriage*
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Parenting*
  • Poverty*